Wild and Scenic Rivers

International Rivers knows from experience that even once it has been stopped, a proposed dam can resurface under a new name, design or location, posing an ongoing threat to unique ecosystems and local populations. Stopping one project is no guarantee that it won’t pop up somewhere else, under a different name. Now, International Rivers is exploring ways to make permanent river conservation in Chile, Colombia, Peru and Ecuador a legal reality.

Why now? Rivers in these countries are increasingly being targeted by dam-builders, who view them as resources to be exploited for electricity and irrigation without taking into account their importance to local communities and the role they play in delivering ecosystem services. Governments are promoting hydroelectric dams as a way to accelerate the growth of energy-intensive industries and increase revenue through the export of electricity. As a result, dozens of dams are slated for the rivers of Patagonia, the Magdalena River basin and the Santiago/Marañón/Amazon river basins.

To protect the future of the rivers of the headwaters of the Amazon, Magdalena and Patagonia rivers, International Rivers is working with national and international organizations to facilitate the development of permanent protection for some of these countries’ most biodiverse and important rivers. We believe that it’s necessary to propose permanent legislative protection for rivers of outstanding value, and build a strong movement to support these legislative changes.

River protection laws are not new. The Wild and Scenic River System (WSRS) has existed in the United States since 1968. In four other countries that have passed WSRS laws, the laws’ statutory purposes vary, depending on the most pressing threat to rivers at the time of a law’s passage. Nonetheless, WSRS laws in New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the United States all contain certain commonalities: preventing development (e.g. hydroelectric power, mineral extraction, road and bridge construction) in order to preserve the watershed and the natural resources offered therein; preserving the cultural heritage offered by the river system (a sentiment more strongly emphasized in Canada); and incorporating state and local governmental agencies in the decision-making, nominating, and management processes.

In Chile, we are partnering with Geute Conservación Sur and Ecosistemas. In Colombia we are partnering with the Movimiento Ríos Vivos. In Ecuador and Perú, we are building relationships with the Shuar, Achuar, Awajún and Wampis peoples to work towards the goal of reaching legal protection for their rivers.

Please join us in this work. Lend us your expertise or let us know how you would like to contribute. We not only think that we must act fast to ensure that we and future generations can enjoy wild and scenic rivers, but also think this is achievable.